Sunday, October 19, 2014

HTP 5 Minute Major 10/19/14

By NiNY

Another banter-filled ep.

Topics:
1) Four games in, what have we learned about the Minnesota Wild?
2) Kesler
3) Advanced Stats

Reminder: check out WildXtra tomorrow for the big launch.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Evolution

By NiNY

I've been doing this since 2007. I think that makes HTP the longest-running Wild-centric blog out there. That and $2 still won't get you on the subway.

I got into this because I otherwise sit here in NY and watch the game and yell at the game and talk about the game - to myself, because I'm not in Minnesota. That's kind of lonely. So, I started out by bombarding Ye Olde Russoville's comments section. Then I moved into the blogging.

Let me tell you something about blogging, it's not always easy. Sure, it's nice not to be constrained by editors, and etiquette, or accountability. But, for those of us who aspire to do a good job, we choose to think about some of those things. Another thing about blogging about a sports team is that A) I'm not a journalist, B) I'm not an expert, C) I have another job, D) - and this one is critical - I don't have access to the team. A + B + C + D = an overall inability to add anything substantive to the discussion that is already presented by the pros who have access to the team, other than pure opinion. There's nothing wrong with that. There's a whole bunch of blogs out there that are super popular that only provide opinions. Some blogs try to pretend like they are a reasonable facsimile of professionalism. In sports, some blogs have even gained access to their team. I get the sense that very few of those (very few) bloggers who do so actually have the wherewithal to conduct themselves like the pros do. That's been my experience as a consumer of those blogs, anyway. I thought the T3I blog that covered the Aeros did the best job of bridging the gap between non-MSM, amateur blog and professional journalism, among the blogs that I have been familiar with. This blog never attempted that. Mostly because I'm in NY, and so I can only see the Wild play a couple times a year without getting on an airplane. And getting on an airplane 80-odd times a year for leisure was beyond my budget.

But, over the past couple years, our output has dwindled. Not, it should be pointed out, the conversations with no one about the Wild that I had, that were the impetus for this blog in the first place. Those continue to this day. But my wonderful wife has an understandable limit to the amount of Wild discussions she wants to have on a given day, and that limit is far, far, below my own. What changed was my belief that I could offer enough interesting opinion to remain a destination for Wild fans looking for opinions. I brought on other writers, whose opinions I enjoy reading. I think we could have made a nice go of it, and I like the idea of being an independent blog. Given our amateur status, that just feels more natural.

Enter Wild Xtra.

This is a new, independent Wild site. It will offer original articles from a good stable of writers. It will offer a community in which people - both Wild fans and not - can hang out. It is affiliated with the hugely successful Twins Daily (and their other new project, Vikings Journal). And it is where you will be able to find written content from my fellow HTP writers and me, from now on. For me, this represents a fix for the challenges I outlined above. I think Wild Xtra has something like 11 different staff writers. So, while my concern is that the opinions of one or a couple individual voices might not be enough to sustain a blog, I do think that the opinions of 11 individual voices is enough. The lifeblood of this kind of blog, in my opinion, is the community aspect it has the opportunity to build. There are other Wild-centric sites out there that have a community. I never cottoned to any of them. I'm willing to say that's more me than them, but it is what it is. The staff at Wild Xtra all seem like good, decent, interesting, non-arrogant people. People with whom I want to be associated. People who I feel will represent the core of what will be a positive force in the Wild fan universe. I think that's unique, and I think that's worthwhile. In short (too late), Wild Xtra is the answer to my prayers for my blogging identity.

About the future of HTP. Having started this place so long ago, and having been through so much with it (anyone else remember when it was selected by USA Hockey magazine as one of the top 10 hockey blogs in America? That was pretty cool) you will understand that I was reluctant to simply shut it down. The question for me is: with all of our written content going to Wild Xtra, what could HTP be used for? Here's what: we will continue to use HTP for live chats and as the place where you can find out podcast, The Five Minute Major. For now, I think that's enough, as we work on getting Wild Xtra up and running. But again, we will no longer be posting original written content here - that is all going over to Wild Xtra.

So, this isn't a good-bye. This is an evolution. Jared, Mike, Doubles and I are excited to cordially invite you over to our new place, Wild Xtra. We hope you continue to stop by here for chats and podcasts, we thank you for reading, we hope to continue to at least entertain you, and most importantly, we look forward to continuing to hoist some virtual beers with you as we hang out and discuss that crazy hockey team in St. Paul.


Best regards,

Nick

P.S.: Wild Xtra is shooting for a formal launch on Monday. However, you can head over there now, sign up so you can participate in the forums and write fan posts, and read some of the initial content we've come up with.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

HTP's 5 Minute Major (podcast) debut ep!

By NiNY

We decided to deep six The Dump In name (which, judging by the number of hits, no one liked anyway) and replace it with: The 5 Minute Major (woo hoo...I know, catchy).

We debuted tonight with the full squad, and covered the Wild's hot start, Brodin's new deal, and Kuemper and the Wild goaltending situation.


5 Minute Major FAQ

Q: Why is it called 5 Minute Major?
A: Because we aspire to keep it to 5 minutes or under, because who really has, say, 22:48 to listen to a podcast?

Okay, enjoy the podcast!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wild at Colorado, 10/11/14

By: Mike Berg

Tonight I watched the Avalanche feed of the game.

The Wild began where they left off two nights before, buzzing early in the Avalanche zone, followed by a quick goal by Charlie Coyle off a Ryan Suter shot. The Avalanche came back and made a game of it by the middle of the first period, generating chances. While the Avalanche were able to generate momentum on a Power Play, the Wild came back with their own man advantage and peppered shots on Varlamov.

Players I noticed in the first were Granlund, who is relentless on the puck, and Brodin, who helped set up the shot on which Coyle scored, and who makes clearing the puck out of trouble look so easy. Kuemper had to make some sensational saves in the first as well.

The second period began rather disjointedly, with an ugly power play for the Wild. And then, oh boy, Erik Johnson stepped in it, nailing Erik Haula with a dirty flying elbow. You have to wonder if this is what Patrick Roy was referring to about a Wild player getting hurt. The action was back and forth until Coyle appeared to get his second of the night, but Hejda pushed Nino Niederreiter into Varlamov, negating the goal. And then the always classy Gabriel "We don't do that sort of thing" Landeskog tried to take Nino's head off, before Zucker put in a beauty from Vanek.

I honestly couldn't notice anyone in the second period because the stream I was watching kept cutting out. Well, other than Erik Johnson wanting to be the only Erik in the game and trying to take out Haula. What I did see was Kuemper continuing to play strong in net.

The third frame was also back and forth, with some chances both ways,  but overall the Avalanche playing desperate,  aggressive hockey. The power play the Wild got midway through the period -  from a couple of Avalanche delay of game calls - was a real mess. They couldn't get into the zone or gain momentum, despite having nearly four minutes of power play time, again, primarily attributable to the Aves playing an aggressive penalty kill. The end of the game was hairy after Roy pulled Varlamov and Cooke slashed Barrie, leading to a late 6 on 4.

Once again, Kuemper was strong in net. Parise scored an empty netter, and he had to work for it,  scoring from below the goal line.

The Wild had to work for this win. They deserved it. Another shutout, but nothing like the season opener.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wild Wrap-Up 10/9/2014 vs Colorado Avalanche Game 1

                                                        Well, That Was Fun...

The Minnesota Wild opened the 2014-2015 season on home ice in St. Paul on Thursday Night.  With expectations for a successful season higher than ever, the Wild did not disappoint.  The 5-0 beatdown over Central Divison rival Colorado was a dominant performance by the home team from start to finish.

Early penalties to Ryan Carter and Marco Scandella within the first seven minutes of the opening period gave the Wild two early chances to get the penalty kill off to a good start.  Whether or not the Wild can improve on last year's 4th-worst-ranked penalty-killing unit (78.8%) will go a long way towards determining the team's success this season.  Strong efforts from penalty killers Mikko Koivu, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula, and Nino Niederreiter helped swing the momentum the Wild's way by successfully killing the first two penalties.  Employing a very active, aggressive penalty kill, the Wild kept the Avs on the perimeter by constantly pressuring the puck.  

After an unsuccessful power-play of its own, the Wild opened the scoring at 14:54 of the first period.  Following an Avs dump-in, Jonas Brodin settled the play down behind his own net, then slid the puck to his left for Ryan Suter.  From the bottom of the face-off circle, Suter fired a long cross-ice pass off the right-side boards.  Skating backwards, Granlund caught the puck in stride, and turned to skate forward, catching Avs defenseman Brad Stuart up ice and out of position.  As Granlund wound up from the top of the right cirlce, Zach Parise drove the net hard, tying up Avs defenseman Erik Johnson in the process.  Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped the initial shot, and the rebound kicked right to hard-charging Wild forward Jason Pominville.  Pominville gathered the rebound and fired it into the yawning net to give the Wild a 1-0 lead that would hold up through the first intermission.  Wild outshot Colorado 17-5 and seemed to get better as the period went on.

The Wild really broke the game open with a 4-goal second period.  At the four-minute mark the line of Parise, Granlund, & Pominville absolutely swarmed the Avs in one of the more memorable shifts of the game.  Defensemen Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon joined their forward linemates in the Avs zone.  All five attackers were in perpetual motion, hemming the Avs in their own zone for more than 45 seconds.  The relentless forecheck caused the Avs fits and multiple turnovers, culminating with Parise sliding a pretty pass accross the slot to a breaking Spurgeon.  Spurgeon one-timed the pass from Parise between the legs of Varlamov as the Wild doubled their lead to 2-0.

Six-and-a-half minutes into the second period, the Wild's 4th line of Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, and newly-signed Ryan Carter bottled the Avs up with a fantastic shift, culminating with a little dust-up after the whistle.  The highlight was Carter flying in out of nowhere to stick up for Zucker by jumping Avs known-thespian Max Talbot.  This is exactly the kind of shift that 4th lines can provide valuable momentum swings with.  

Good first impression for Carter


The ensuing neutral zone face-off saw Granlund school Nathan McKinnon while taking left wing Gabe Landeskog out of the play, and pushing the puck ahead to Parise.  Using defenseman Jan Hejda as a screen, Parise fired a hard wrister from the high slot that Varlamov stopped.  Parise beat Hejda to the loose puck, firing another shot into Varlamov.  Hejda was unable to contain Parise, who back-handed that rebound into the open net, proving the third time to indeed be the charm.

From there the Wild kept the pressure on.  Thomas Vanek rescued the Wild from a rare anxious moment at the 9 minute mark of the 2nd by sweeping a loose puck from the Wild goal mouth.  Two-and-a-half minutes later Nino Niederreiter, who was a horse all night long, made it 4-0 Wild after charging the Avs net and taking advantage of some shoddy, non-communicative back-checking by Colorado.  Suter capped the 4 goal period for the Wild by hammering a one-timer off a beautiful setup from Parise.  A brilliant play to keep the puck in the Avs zone by Brodin going skate-to-stick sent the puck into the corner where Coyle outmuscled Talbot, lead to Parise emerging with the puck behind the net.  Parise slid a backhand pass to a breaking Suter, who hammered a one-timer from the top of the circle past Varlamov, into the net, and the route was on.


Not the crease Vanek typically hangs out near

El Niño somehow turns this into a goal

The two teams played a scoreless third period.  Fantastic effort by the Wild, with 5 different players scoring goals.  The Parise-Granlund-Pominville line was flying all night long.  Niederreiter and Coyle each had very strong games as both were physical and involved in several goal-mouth scrums.  While not tested much, Darcy Kuemper pitched the shutout for the Wild. It will be interesting to see if Mike Yeo comes back with Kuemper on Saturday in Denver or if Niklas Backstrom will veto the nod.  Oddly enough Koivu and Vanek had pretty quiet games for the Wild.  Matt Dumba and Christian Folin each made some rookie mistakes at times, but overall had decent debuts.

The Wild can expect to see a very different Colorado team as the home-and-home series heads out west to Denver on Saturday night.  Great start for the Wild.  Yes, we'll take 81 more of those, please.  Then again I would settle for 16 of those between mid-April through the month of June...

*** 3rd Star:  Ryan Suter (1G, 1A, +3, 25:31 TOI)
  ** 2nd Star:  Mikael Granlund (2A, +4)
     * 1st Star:  Zach Parise (1G, 2A, 9 SOG, +4

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wild GameDay 10/9/2014

 
Wild Game Day 10/9/2014 Game#1
                        Minnesota Wild (0-0-0-0) vs Colorado Avalanche (0-0-0-0) 8:00PM (NBCS)

Avs projected line combos (courtesy Mike Chambers, The Denver Post):
Forwards:
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O’Reilly-Nathan McKinnon
Alex Tanguay-Matt Duchene-Jarome Arhtur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla
Jamie McGinn-Daniel Briere-Max Talbot
Cody McCleod-Marc-Andre Cliché-Dennis Everberg

Defense:
Brad Stuart-Erik Johnson
Nick Holden-Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda-Nate Guenin
Goalie:  Semyon Varlamov

Wild projected line combos (courtesy Michael Russo, Startribune)
Forwards:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Carter

Defense:
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Matt Dumba- Christian Folin

Goalie:  Darcy Kuemper

The Minnesota Wild host the Colorado Avalanche in the 2014 Season Opener for both teams.  This is the first leg of a home-and-home series that concludes in Denver on Saturday Night.  The Wild came back from a 2-0 deficit to eliminate the Avalanche in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinal round of the 2014 NHL Playoffs.  NHL rivalries are born from playoff series, and last year’s Opening Round was a doozy.  A turning point of the series occurred in the early moments of the 2nd period in Game 3.  Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie was the recipient of a nasty knee-on-knee hit courtesy of the Wild’s Matt Cooke.  Barrie, the Avs’ best puck-moving defenseman, was knocked out of the rest of the series with a sprained knee.  For his part, Cooke received a 7-game suspension.  One of this weekend’s interesting story lines will be to see if the Avs try to extract their pound of flesh from Cooke.  I’d be shocked if they didn’t.  Cody McCleod and Steve Downie will be leading candidates to play vigilante for Colorado, as chief knuckle-dragger Patrick Bordeleau begins the year on injured reserve due to off-season back surgery.   

 
The Wild open the season with unquestionably the highest expectations in the 14-year history of the franchise.  Hoping to find the right mix of grizzled veterans and talented youngsters, the Wild is looking to build on last year’s taste of playoff success.  30 year-old Thomas Vanek makes the longest-awaited free-agent debut in NHL history tonight.  Darcy Kuemper gets the nod between the pipes.  The Wild would love either Kuemper or veteran Niklas Backstrom step up and carry the load as the number one goaltender.  The paring of promising youngsters Matt Dumba and Christian Folin will also be unveiled for the Wild.  Newly signed White Bear Lake product Ryan Carter also makes his first Wild appearance.          

The “Post-Paul Stastny Era” begins tonight for Colorado.  The Avs have a high-profile free agent of their own debuting tonight in Jarome Iginla.  The all-time Wild killer (37G, 67A career vs Wild) is back in the same division as his favorite opponent.  Opening Night proved to be an interesting one for the Avs last year.  Rookie bench-boss Patrick Roy used the waning moments of a 6-1 drubbing of visiting Anaheim to make an interesting statement to his young team:
 

 

However contrived and calculated this may have been on  Roy’s part, it sure seemed to galvanize the Avs.  It sent a clear message that their coach was going to battle for them, and Opening Night served as  a springboard for one of the league’s biggest surprises last season.  Will Roy have any rallying cry tricks up his sleeve in St. Paul tonight?  Or perhaps in Denver on Saturday night?      
Hockey is back.  Oh, how you've been missed...        
 

 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Non-Staged, Spontaneous, Accidental Fighting

The NHL pre-season has barely wrapped up and I’ve already heard some mime-blowing developments in the fight against fighting. Love it or hate it, fighting’s place in hockey is under fire and era-defining change seems imminent. Fighting has immediate consequences, such as how getting punched hurts immediately. And there are long-term consequences, such as—much to everyone’s surprise—repeated punches over time can lead to a slowing of motor skills and... and... was it memory? Bah, who knows? It’ll come to me.

Now would be a good time to make it clear that I don’t really have any qualms with fighting. Be it hockey, be it MMA, be it boxing—but really, WhoTF watches boxing? For me it comes down to choices. If a grown-ass man or woman wants to fight within the rules of their sport, well knowing the dangers of fighting (ouch now, and ouch later), then let the grown-ass man or woman fight. Anyone who feigns naiveté to the consequences is lying through their dentures.

As a follower of the Wild, we have been graced with one of the most feared fighters in the game: Derek Boogaard. He did it right. Stuck to the code. Lived with humility and punched with thunder. I was a fan of his hockey fighting school, but mainly that it existed. I would extend my same feelings about fighting in general to that school: choose to punch or get punched at your own risk. And when it hurts to get punched, don’t act like someone owes you a cash settlement because you’re pretending to assume that punching doesn’t hurt.

In any case, teams are handling this hot topic in a variety of ways.

As I think we all do sometimes, the other evening I cuddled up with 1-6 six beers (Alaskan Brewing Co’s Pumpkin Porter) and a riveting NHL pre-season contest between the Red Wings of Detroit and the Leafs of Maple of Toronto. The broadcast team—forgive me if their names elude me (I blame the Pumpkin Porter)—commented on how the Red Wings are giant wusses. That’s my paraphrasing; the broadcast team may have used more elegant words and, ya know, stats or whatever to supplement their diplomatic description. But let’s face it: The Wings’ lack of fighting, grit, and general manliness is no secret. They’re a bunch of wusses. Wussess who fight with goals and wizardry, but wusses nonetheless.

One of the nameless announcers, doubled-by-pumpkin-porter-vision, announced that the Wangs have banned fighting during the pre-season scrimmages. For the record, my extensive research—i.e., if I can’t find it in five minutes, it didn’t happen, bro—yielded no proof of this ban.

Three thoughts tumbled down the back stairway that is my brain:
  1. How wussy does a team have to be to ban fighting?
  2. Who actually fights during scrimmages?
  3. Who drank all my damned Pumpkin Porter?

Recent history has given the Wings good reason to discourage fighting amongst its camp players. In 2013, Nick “Who?” Jensen suffered a shoulder injury in a fight with Mitch “Who?” Callahan during a prospect development camp scrimmage. The injury required surgery, and I don’t know if Jensen’s entire season was forfeited (again: extensive research) but his chance to make the big club that season was certainly forfeited.

Annnnnnd then there’s the always classy Flames of Calgary. It’s been widely publicized how Bob “Forever Hated Ex-Avs Coach” Hartley held “fighting practice” sessions during the Flames’ camp this year. I’ve also got no problems with this in theory

I have a problem, however, with Hartley’s BS smoke screen. He claimed the sessions were geared towards teaching the Flames’ youths how to defend themselves.

If you want to teach defense against fighting:
  • Teach them to keep their gloves on.
  • Teach them to retract into the fetal posish.
  • Teach them to wrap the other guy up.
  • Teach them MFn judo.
  • Teach your GM to not hire the likes of Trevor Gillies.

If you’re truly teaching your players how to defend against fighting, teach your commissioner that you don’t think fighting has a place in the NHL anymore.

Hartley is the same jackhole coach who instigated Goongate 2013 between the Flames and the Canucks, which marks the only time I’ve ever respected John “King of Dooshes” Tortorella. And only because he was true to his dooshy nature, taking the fight off the ice and into the hallways.

Hartley hid behind BS smoke screens then too, claiming that he iced his fourth line to start the game because they had been providing offense for the Flames. Sadly, this is true: that’s how bad the Flames were last year. At least Torts was a man about it.

Holy shit. I can’t believe I just typed that.

The NHL cannot phase fighting out. I don’t want an awkward transition and after 30 years fighting is still around but in some ghostlike form. Like the freakin’ goal judge behind the net, as if those assholes serve ANY purpose or tout ANY decision-making power anymore. A guy literally gets paid to turn a light on if he thinks a little rubber thing crossed a line. He even keeps his job if he’s wrong. It’s the same job security as being a weatherman, except no one gives a shit about what he thinks.

Gimme cold turkey, rude awakening, one day fighting is gone; that’s what I want if fighting has to go.

The NHL also has to stop splitting hairs. This debate about “staged” versus “non-staged” fighting is garbage—garbage with a lot of random stuff in it, like coffee grounds, diapers, baby carrots that you don’t even remember buying, etc. Fighting is fighting, and all fighting is staged. At least one person makes a choice to fight.

It’s not like fighting happens by accident.

Sudden cut to RED & BLUE PLAYERS, amidst a hail of right-handed pistons.

DUDE, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
BRO, I HAVE NO IDEA!
THIS MUST BE ONE OF THOSE NON-STAGED FIGHTS!
IT’S AMAZING THAT WE’VE SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTED INTO PUNCHES—AGAIN!
YEAH, LIKE A VERGENCE IN THE FORCE BUT LIKE THE FORCE IS US PUNCHING EACH OTHER!
FUN FACT: THE FORCE OF AN AVERAGE PUNCH IS 200 POUNDS PER SQUARE INCH!
MAYBE YOURS IS THAT WEAK, PANSY!
SCREW YOU, BRO! NOW I’M PUNCHING YOU ON PURPOSE!

The players cease punching and grapple jerseys.

Aww, dude. When you punch on purpose it becomes a staged fight. Way to go.
Sorry, bro. I... I got carried away.
It’s cool. And I didn’t mean it about your punches. I think you have a very nice, above-average PSI punch.
Thanks, man. You too.
I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed this exchange.
Samesies. Maybe we can do it again sometime?
I’d like that, man, but you don’t get it. It can’t be on purpose.
Rrriiight... The whole ‘staged’ thing.
No one must know.
YOU just don’t want people to know about your weak punching PSI.

Punching resumes.

OOOOOH THERE YOU GO AGAIN! NO MORE ACCIDENTAL FIGHTS! WE'RE HAVING A STAGED FIGHT! NOW! DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES!
OF WHICH THERE ARE NONE!
REALLY? NO SUSPENSIONS?
NOPE. FIGHTING IS STILL LEGAL.
THEN WHY ARE WE ARGUING ABOUT STAGED OR NON-STAGED, SPONTANEOUS, 
ACCIDENTAL FIGHTING?
I HAVE NO IDEA. I JUST GET PAID TO PUNCH PANSIES.
FAIR POINT—HHHEEEYYYyyy...

END SCENE

To me, the solution has to be simple and clear. The NHL has to decide if fighting is to stay or if it’s to go the way of the boxing dinosaurs. Sadly for boxing, fighting makes up a pretty big part of boxing. If the NHL eventually makes that choice, and if fighting does become some zany grandpa tradition that will amaze and perplex our grandkids, at least those grandkids will have a lot more elements in the game to love or hate.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wild Goalie Insanity Review

By NiNY

A handy-dandy review of which goalie was where, when, during this crazy-but-also-totally-normal week in Wild goalie land:

Monday
Backstrom: Wild
Harding: Wild
Kuemper: KHL?
Bryzgalov: Floating in space

Tuesday
Backstrom: Wild
Harding: ?
Kuemper: KHL?
Bryzgalov: Tryout?

Wednesday
Backstrom: Wild
Harding: Injured
Kuemper: KHL?
Bryzgalov: In space ship, on way to St. Paul

Thursday
Backstrom: Wild
Harding: Suspended
Kuemper: Wild
Bryzgalov: Wild (tryout)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dreams of 2018

By NiNY

As it turns out, my 2018 Winter Olympic dream may not be dead. Not that it was that alive to begin with, but I had given it up for dead a while ago. See, I had initially thought that the host country received an auto-bid into the hockey tournament, but then I had learned that Korea was unlikely to pursue an auto-bid for 2018 since their national team isn't very strong. Whatever there is to be gained by having a team in one of the most-visible events, how much of that do you lose if that team loses 500-0 to the likes of Canada?

Well, it turns out maybe the door isn't completely shut.

As Sean Leahy of PuckDaddy reports, the IIHF would like to see Korea improve its standing in international hockey in order to consider giving it an auto-bid. That's promising. However, the full context of the report is '...because they just stunk it up royally in an IIHF Division 1, Group A tournament on home ice - going win-less against the likes of Japan, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Ukraine.' But, the language clearly implies that Korea is trying to earn entry to the 2018 Olympic men's ice hockey tournament - and that they still have a shot.

Which means, *I* still have a shot.

The country of my birth (and my blood) is currently ranked 23rd in the IIHF men's rankings. By virtue of their aforementioned performance at the 2014 IIHF Division 1, Group A championship, they have been relegated down to Division 1, Group B. Their next IIHF world championship is April 13-19, 2015, in the Netherlands. Besides Korea (23rd), Group B is comprised of Great Britain (22nd), Netherlands (25th), Lithuania (26th), Croatia (28th), and Estonia (29th).

Leahy also recently reported that Korea have hired former NHLer, and Stanley Cup winner, Jim Paek as their new men's head coach. I don't know what this means for me, specifically, but I can't imagine it has hurt my standing.

Which, by the way, is non-existent.

But, let's look at what we know. According to Korea's country profile on the IIHF site, there are 2,100 registered ice hockey players in Korea. 1,796 of them are junior players. 120 are male players, which as a category that is distinct from "junior" players, I take to mean there are 120 male adult players in Korea. So, let's say 1/6 of those players are goalies. That means, at worst, I'm the 21st-best Korean male goalie. In the world. *mind blown*

The goal for Korea's men's team, according to Leahy, is to improve their international ranking to 18th.

So, here's the game plan. I would like to make the team that competes in that April, 2015 tournament in the Netherlands. I know the odds are against Korea fielding a team in 2018, and they're even more against me being on that team. But here's the thing: we're (my family and I) going to that Oly. We've already decided on it. I think there's a great story to be told here. Kid born in Korea, orphaned, adopted by Americans, grows up in hockey-mad Minnesota, has cup of coffee with the men's national team, then returns to Korea for the first time since he was a baby, with his family, to see the country of his birth through the lens of a Winter Olympics. I can picture Bob Costas turning it over to Mary Carillo with the story.

But this isn't about some 15 minutes of fame. This is about a man going "home", with no memory of the country of his birth, seeing it for the "first" time. Seeing it also through the eyes his own children, themselves half-Korean, for the first time. The hockey part is merely the angle from which the story begins to be told. It's a story that I'd like to experience and tell.

So, anyone have Jim Paek's number?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Summer Project: Advanced Stats

By NiNY

My summer project is going to be to really get under the hood on advanced stats/analytics in hockey. Like I've said: professionally, I operate in a world of using stats to tell stories and analyze situations. I'm not resistant to the idea of advanced analytics in hockey. I just haven't been sold on the value of the metrics that are currently in vogue. So I want to understand them really well, to see if I need to come to a more-informed opinion.

I started out today by finding an article on a Jets blog about what Corsi is and is not. It was a very good article: rationally laid out, and well-stated, arguments. It did not seem to have a pro-advanced analytics agenda – just more of a “here’s the deal, for better or for worse” attitude, which I respect.

Corsi: Defined

Corsi is simply the differential between shots (attempted) for and against, typically in even-strength situations. It can be applied at the team or player level, for a given game or number of games. If the Wild takes 6 shots at/on goal and Chicago takes 3 while Mikko is on the ice, Mikko has a +3 Corsi. Corsi counts all shot attempts, regardless of the outcome (blocked, missed the net, on goal, in goalPretty intuitive, makes sense. Glad we're tracking that. All aboard so far.

Corsi: Applications, and a bit about Fenwick

The article then says that "Corsi can proxy scoring chances reasonably well". Okay, again, I don't debate that. Simply, it seems to me to be extremely rare that a team can register a scoring chance without first attempting a shot on goal. Sure, someone could suffer a Skoula moment that could lead to a crazy chance without someone taking a shot at the goal, but those are so rare as to be clear outliers. So, yeah, the team that wins the shots battle should come out on top. The higher the Corsi for a player, the greater the likelihood that he was on the ice for goals-for instead of goals-against.

The point is made that Corsi lends itself to analysis about possession and territorial advantage. That’s a little thinner, I think. Because not all shot attempts come after the same amount of possession or even zone time. Think of a team that isn’t supporting the puck in the offensive zone, getting those “one-and-done” chances and then retreating back on defense. They could win the Corsi for that game, and it wouldn’t give you an accurate depiction of possession or territorial advantage. Or if team A gets pinned in its zone for a while, but doesn’t give up a shot attempt, then gets a breakaway and goes in for a shot attempt. In other words, there are normal situations that occur within a game that undermine the correlation between Corsi and possession and territorial advantage. But, I’m still willing to say that the middle of the bell curve of outcomes will support a pretty strong correlation between these things.

Then we get into Fenwick, which is Corsi net of blocked shots. So, the more shots you take that get to or around the net (instead of getting blocked on the way) vs. the other team, the better. Fair enough.

I found other articles by the likes of Cam Charron and Jesse Spector that delved deeper in the genesis and history of Corsi, which were also very interesting.

Additive Applicability Challenges

But here’s where I think the breakdown in additive applicability to the broader game of hockey starts to come into play. Corsi grew out of Jim Corsi’s desire to track events within a game that would cause a goaltender to react physically. He made the novel leap that such events are not solely manifested by shots on goal/goals, but also by shots attempted. I play goalie, granted at the beer league level, and this kind of thinking warms the cockles of my heart. But, lots of things occur during a game that cause me, as a goalie, to move – many of which occur with or without a shot attempt associated with them. Now, I understand you can’t wrap everything into a metric like this. There has to be a line, and making that line shot attempts makes good sense. I’m just saying that, when you extrapolate this beyond the goalie to the broader game, its effectiveness starts to fray at the edges a bit. Again, it’s not even that I don’t see a correlation to things like scoring chances or even wins and losses, it’s that I don’t see an added level of insight to those things beyond what we get with simple shots for vs. shots against.

Data

So, I ran the numbers for the Wild’s 2013-2014 season, using extraskater.com as my source. What I came up with was pretty interesting.

W L O.S Gms WPCT
When Corsi Positive 13 12 8 33 39.39%
When Corsi Negative 26 14 6 46 56.52%
When Fenwick Positive 15 13 9 37 40.54%
When Fenwick Negative 24 14 6 44 54.55%
When SOG* Positive 14 13 9 36 38.89%
When SOG* Negative 18 13 6 37 48.65%

Corsi Even+Pos 16 13 7 36 44.44%
Fenwick Even+Pos 18 12 8 38 47.37%
SOG* Even+Pos 22 14 9 45 48.89%
*SOG = Shots on Goal

The preceding data shows the Wild’s record (win, loss, overtime/shootout loss) when they had a positive or negative Corsi, Fenwick or simple shots rating. The upper section of data show the results with a positive or negative differential only. The lower section of data show the results with an even OR positive differential, or a negative differential.

The thesis was that Corsi and Fenwick do a good job of indicating outcomes, and a better job than traditional statistics (such as simple SOG differential). The conclusion, from this sample set, debunks that thesis in two ways.

First, a positive Corsi differential only correlated to a 39.39% winning percentage. A positive SOG differential correlated to a 38.89% winning percentage. That’s a wash. A positive Fenwick differential correlated to a 40.54% winning percentage – a little better result than Corsi, relative to straight SOG.

Second, a negative Corsi or Fenwick differential, the thesis would follow, would indicate that the Wild trailed in chances, possession and territorial advantage, all of which would seem to lead to the analysis that the Wild would be more likely to lose those games in which their Corsi or Fenwick differential was negative. The data proves otherwise. In fact, the Wild had a significantly better winning percentage when their Corsi differential was negative (56.52%) than when it was positive (39.39%). The Fenwick data show the same thing: a better winning percentage when the differential was negative (54.55% than positive (40.54%) . The same basic relative outcomes hold for the SOG differentials, proving both that Corsi and Fenwick are no better at predicting, or correlating to, wins than simple SOG and that Corsi, Fenwick and SOG are lousy predictors of outcomes in general.

Adding in the outcomes where the differential was even to the outcomes where the differential was positive moves the data even more in favor of SOG being at least as good a metric than Corsi and Fenwick for predicting wins.

A Word About Sample Size

When you challenge the advanced analytics set on their thesis, sooner or later they trot out sample size as a limitation. It’s funny because they don’t seem to have an issue with a small sample size when the data work for them, but it’s definitely an issue when the data work against them.

There can be no doubt that even an 82-game sample size is sub-optimal. For the record, extraskater.com was giving me trouble going back farther than this season, so I will continue to try to add to the data set for the Wild. So, before the advanced stats guys jump all over me, I acknowledge this sample size is small. I think you can make the argument that you could either go insane trying to establish what an appropriate sample size is, and also that each roster is unique (and rosters are constantly in flux due to injuries, line changes, etc) so maybe a full season is a reasonable sample size. But, I know sample size is going to be brought up.

Conclusion

By way of a conclusion, I am not willing to say I have concluded anything. The fact is I would like to get more data. But people should also recognize that as you add to the sample size you invite the introduction of additional variables that could limit the applicability of the results.

I came into this thinking that advanced stats don’t tell me anything that elementary stats already told me. I have not seen anything that would make me think otherwise, to this point.